Myranda Grecinger is a graduate student in interdisciplinary studies at Liberty University studying American History & Executive Leadership.
Gender roles are a complex thing. The idea of women’s and men’s place in the world and what role it is okay for each to play in society varies from culture to culture. In the U.S., there is a great deal of debate on this subject, most likely due to the melting pot effect. There are simply so many cultural variations all crammed together that it becomes difficult to examine a general consensus on gender-based ideals.
It is my belief that both men and women deserve equal rights in all areas and that women will continue to push their way into acceptance in the workforce at an exponential rate just as men will continue to push for acceptance in a more domestic capacity; however, I do not go as far as to say they are created equally equipped for all things.
Women's Rights Movements in the US
The women’s rights movements of the mid to late 1800s through the early 1900s through the efforts of the suffragist women’s groups of the time were the first organized steps in U.S. history towards gender equality. The suffragists fought for “the “Declaration of Sentiments—a woman’s right to personal freedom, to education, to earn a living and claim her wages, to own property, to make contracts, to obtain divorce, and to retain custody of children” (Chapman, 2011).
After that came movements that pushed for women to serve in the same fields holding the same positions as men and the right to work in a safe, harassment-free environment. These movements forever changed the way in which employers and the government could treat someone based solely on the basis of gender. Unfortunately, no amount of written policy could change the perception of gender ideology of individuals, and gender discrimination still goes on today.
Gender In and Out of the Home
Often when one considers gender issues, the first thing we think of is a women’s place in the world. Traditional views hold that a woman’s place is in the home, supporting her husband, caring for her children, cooking and cleaning, basically performing what is considered to be domestic duties. Even long after women gained the right to earn a regular wage and work outside the home, employers saw this as a possible problem rather than a benefit.
A 2009 study by Hoobler, Wayne & Lemmon “suggests that rather than actual family-work conflict, bosses’ biased perceptions of their female employees’ family-work conflict may explain why women experience fewer promotions. Bosses’ perceptions are hypothesized to significantly affect promote-ability assessments and thus contribute to explaining the gap in promotions between men and women.” This means that employers basically contend that women carry more responsibility in the home and that their home lives will inevitably affect their performance by interfering with work more often or to a greater degree than men’s (Hoobler, Wayne & Lemmon, 2009). In direct contrast with this sentiment, however, more married people than ever are sharing responsibilities both in and out of the home.
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A 2006 study “indicates there are associations between gender ideology and gender role strain and life satisfaction for dual-career couples” (King, 2006). In light of the information gained by this study, one could surmise that a couple who both work outside the home, who both progress equally in their employment and pay status and share in the domestic responsibilities would be happier, more satisfied with themselves and their accomplishments and would have greater respect for one another.
Gender roles, however, are complicated things and do not always pan out according to plan. “The gender ideology of a traditional wife leads to a lack of reinforcing behavior for a less traditional husband who attempts to become more involved with his children. Her belief that a man is not capable of nurturing or caring for children may lead her to limit the amount of her husband's involvement” (Bulanda, 2004). Women have become just as set on the separation of gender roles and have just as often undermined the movements towards equality by dismissing their counterpart’s ability to perform the tasks that they deem to be women’s work. This is just one more inhibition to true equality between the genders, perhaps the problem of equality and ideology would be better addressed scientifically for the greater good than emotionally by individual convictions.
"Gender ideology refers to attitudes regarding the appropriate roles, rights, and responsibilities of women and men in society." (Kroska, 2006) By definition gender ideology is determined by the behavior it defines, so a more appropriate method of determining what roles men and women should fill and how they should be expected to participate in society would be to approach it biologically. “There are real, and in some cases sizeable sex differences with respect to some cognitive abilities.” (Halpern, 2000) The fact is that even from birth boys tend to be more interested in the manipulation of and stimulation provided by objects and girls seem more interested in human interaction and nurturing, (Spelke, 2005). So, to paraphrase, boys and girls really do have differences in development and functionality, and there is the scientific basis for a division of labor. This does not necessarily mean that males cannot perform the same tasks as females and vice versa, or even that they will not do as well as one another, it simply means that from a scientific standpoint one is better equipped to do certain things than the other.
My View on Gender Roles
Due to the fact that there is a scientific basis for it, I do believe that women are better equipped to care for children than men and men better equipped for problem-solving and heavy labor, but I do not contend that either sex is incapable of any of the aforementioned. It is my summation that both men and women, if and when driven to do so, can compete on any level in just about any area.
Men’s bodies may not be equipped to bear children or lactate, but surrogacy or adoption are options and supplemental milk formula is available. So really, there are no other barriers between the two sexes, although one may have to work harder than the other to achieve the same result, which clearly implies a natural inequality in some areas. Women will continue to push for society to accept them in the workplace and treat them as equal to men, but on that note, hopefully, women will begin to see how imperative it is that they accept their male counterparts as equally capable in the home.
- Spelke, Elizabeth (2005) Sex Differences in Intrinsic Aptitude for Mathematics and Science: A Critical Review
- Halpern, Diane (2000) Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities: 4th Edition http://www.amazon.com/Sex-Differences-Cognitive-Abilities -Edition/dp/1848729413#reader _1848729413
- Kroska, A. and Elman, C. , 2006-08-11 "Gender Ideology Discrepancies: Exploring a Control Model of Gender Ideology Change" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Online <PDF>. 2011-03-14 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/0/5/1/4/p105145_index.html
- King, Jennifer Jean (2006). Gender ideology: impact on dual-career couples' role strain, marital satisfaction, and life satisfaction. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University, Available electronically from http://repository.tamu.edu/handle/1969.1/3299
- Chapman, Mary (Editor); Mills, Angela (Editor) Treacherous Texts: U.S. Suffrage Literature, 1846-1946. Piscataway, NJ, USA: Rutgers University Press, 2011. p170 http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ashford/Doc?id=10518886&ppg=185
- Hoobler, J. M., Wayne, S. J., & Lemmon, G. (2009) Bosses' Perceptions of Family-Work Conflict and Women's Promotability: Glass Ceiling Effects. Academy Of Management Journal, 52(5), 939-957. doi:10.5465/AMJ.2009.44633700
- Bulanda, Ronald E. (Feb., 2004) Paternal Involvement with Children: The Influence of Gender Ideologies, Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 66, No. 1, pp. 40-45 Published by: National Council on Family Relations, Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3599864
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2012 Myranda Grecinger